2-07 SLAPP/Anti-SLAPP Lawsuits; Defamation, Libel, Slander

SECTIONS ON THIS PAGE

  • Strategic Litigation Against Public Participants: SLAPP and Anti-SLAPP Lawsuits
  • Some Key Anti-SLAPP Websites
    • California Anti-SLAPP Project
    • The Public Participation Project (PPP) hosts pages on State Anti-SLAPP Laws
    • First Amendment Project – The Anti-SLAPP Resource Center
  • “Limited Public Figures” and Their Threefold Criteria for Proving Defamation

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Strategic Litigation Against Public Participants:

SLAPP and Anti-SLAPP Lawsuits

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. These are civil suits whose purposes are generally designed to silence or intimidate opponents. SLAPP suits are often frivolous and insidious, used by individuals or entities with “deep pockets” – ample funds to outlast and outlawyer their opponents. Defamation/SLAPP suits can happen to people who express their opinion about a spiritually abusive person or organization, and so is highly relevant if you choose to speak out or write about spiritual abuse.

The following paragraph from the wikipedia article on Anti-SLAPP gives a helpful overview of the SLAPP type of defamation lawsuit.

Other widely mentioned elements of a SLAPP are the actual effectiveness at silencing critics, the timing of the suit, inclusion of extra or spurious defendants (such as relatives or hosts of legitimate defendants), inclusion of plaintiffs with no real claim (such as corporations that are affiliated with legitimate plaintiffs), making claims that are very difficult to disprove or rely on no written record, ambiguous or deliberately mangled wording that lets plaintiffs make spurious allegations without fear of perjury, refusal to consider any settlement (or none other than cash), characterization of all offers to settle as insincere, extensive and unnecessary demands for discovery, attempts to identify anonymous or pseudonymous critics, appeals on minor points of law, demands for broad rulings when appeal is accepted on such minor points of law, and attempts to run up defendants’ costs even if this clearly costs more to the plaintiffs. [Retrieved February 2013.]

Typically, an anti-SLAPP motion is filed to counter SLAPP defamation lawsuits, and protect defendants from frivolous lawsuits. As of late 2014, there still was no national anti-SLAPP law in place. However, many states have some version of an anti-SLAPP statute. Filing an anti-SLAPP “motion to dismiss” would be considered a routine legal response in a defamation lawsuit like this.

For a very instructive “grand tour” of SLAPP and anti-SLAPP issues, read the Memo in Support of Special Motions to Strike, written by Linda K. Williams. She was the lawyer for several of the defendants in the 2012 lawsuit where Charles O’Neal and Beaverton [Oregon] Grace Bible Church sued Julie Anne Smith and four other defendants for $500,000 over alleged defamation for posting negative Google Reviews of the church and labeling him as spiritually abusive. Ms. Williams is an expert on anti-SLAPP issues, and often has to provide the Court with detailed case law reviews because the procedure is still so rare in its application.

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Some Key Anti-SLAPP Resource Websites

California Anti-SLAPP Project. “Are you being sued for speaking out?” Many states have used the California Anti-SLAPP laws as the basis for their own laws. This site is a tremendous resource for understanding the general legal issues, constitutional principles, and case law involved. Very helpful, even if your state has no Anti-SLAPP law yet, or one that differs from California’s.

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The Public Participation Project (PPP) hosts pages on State Anti-SLAPP Laws. This site contains a map so you can hover over a state (or the District of Columbia) and immediately see if that state has Anti-SLAPP laws in place by seeing PPP’s color-coded score for the quality of that state’s law.

  • Green = A (Excellent).
  • Yellow = B (Good).
  • Orange = C (Adequate).
  • Red = D (Weak).
  • Gray = F (No Anti-SLAPP Law).

On that same page, PPP also provides a chart with state-by-state (plus District of Columbia) specifics about that jurisdiction’s Anti-SLAPP laws. The nine columns included are as follows. For columns #3 through #9, the chart for a state with some kind of Anti-SLAPP law will have a Y (yes), N (no), ? (unsure), or blank

1. Jurisdiction: state or District of Columbia; US territories not included.

2. Statutes or Case Law: either gives the citations for states with Anti-SLAPP laws, or “N/A” for those that don’t.

3. Any Forum: Speech made in any forum is protected. Not restricted to speech made before a governmental body.

4. Any Public Issue: Protection granted for speech made in connection with any issue of public interest or concern. Not restricted to issues under consideration by a governmental body or speech aimed at procuring government action in favor of the speaker.

5. Mandatory Attorney Fees/Costs: Award of costs and attorney fees is mandatory for successful anti-SLAPP defendants.

6. Additional Burden: Statute or case law requires overcoming additional burdens, such as the SLAPP suit being brought in “bad faith,” or that the speech was without knowledge or reckless disregard for its falsity.

7. Amendment After Grant: Pleadings may be amended after an anti-SLAPP motion is granted.

8. Amendment While Pending: Pleadings may be amended while an anti-SLAPP motion is pending.

9. Immediate Appeal: Anti-SLAPP motions are immediately appealable after denial.

The map/chart webpage also gives a link to download a PDF of the chart. However, I could not find any note on the webpage or chart about when the information was last updated, so the details may or may not be current.

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The First Amendment Project (FAP), based in Oakland, California,”is a nonprofit organization providing free legal services on matters relating to free speech and free press.” According to its Resources page, FAP “provides articles and guides intended to help citizens and journalist through the process of obtaining public records and public information from state and public agencies and court systems.” Though their resource items are geared to California laws, some have more general application or guide people in other states as to what laws to look for in their own locale.

FAP’s Anti-SLAPP resource is Guarding Against the Chill: A Survival Guide for SLAPP Victims. The contents outline is helpful, regardless of what state you live in.

  • What are SLAPPs?
  • How do you know it’s a SLAPP?
  • How to protect yourself from being a SLAPP target.
  • How to deal with SLAPPs.
  • The legal process – defending a SLAPP.
  • Where to find help. [Includes suggestions for both California and national resource organizations.]

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“Limited Public Figures”

and Their Threefold Criteria for Proving Defamation

[This repeats two paragraphs from page 2-04 Citizen Journalists/Bloggers, Limited Public Figures, and The Streisand Effect.]

For those who document and write about abuse, assault, violence, spiritual abuse, etc., it is important to keep in mind that this topic deals with public safety and matters in “the public interest.” This is especially so when it involves those who are considered “public figures.” This category does not just include celebrities and politicians, but others who may have a more limited platform but still are in the public eye, such as speakers, authors, and organization leaders — including church pastors, ministry directors, and board members and staff.

The consideration of who is a “limited public figure” is highly relevant to the issue of defamation lawsuits. As people with a public reputation, the criteria for proving slander or libel are more stringent. This is usually summarized as needing to meet three criteria in order to prove harm to reputation: (1) the person accused of slander/libel did in fact lie, (2) knew he/she lied, and (3) did so with malicious intent. It is difficult to prove all three components, especially malice. And when bloggers/reporters state conclusions about people, these are typically opinions.

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